If you’ve got a handful of chickens but are wanting to add to your brood, hatching your own chicks is the best and most fun way to get a full coop! Watching your chicks grow from tiny newly-hatched feather balls to fully grown hens who are laying their own eggs is an exciting experience in itself.
But when it actually comes to hatching the eggs, especially if you’ve been trying for a while, you may be wondering why sometimes it works and sometimes it just… doesn’t.
The best way to hatch eggs is by letting a broody hen sit on them, then raise and protect the chicks. Everyone who has tried both the natural way and incubating eggs will tell you it's easier if the hen does it herself!
Broody hens are the best way to successfully hatching eggs, and I’ve put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions about them, including how to take proper care of your broodies.
How do I see if a hen is broody?
You will notice a hen is broody when she's sitting in one spot fanatically - she'll be very hard to distract and often not even come out for food.
Keep a good eye on her, as not all hens turn out to be all-out broody; if she leaves the nest for longer times, check the eggs - if they're cold, it's probably better to "break her" - or to let her sit on fake eggs.
My hens don't get broody!
If you have chickens that have been bred for laying eggs proficiently, it's very possible they won't get broody. Around here, most chickens you buy (e.g. at the vet's office) come from an industrial environment; their instinct to sit on eggs to hatch them has been totally bred out.
That is also the reason I got my first incubator - my chickens just weren't the kind that would get broody. These days I have Brahmas as well, and I've noticed especially my Brahma-laying mix chicken loves being broody!
My hen is broody, but I don't have a cockerel!
If your hen is broody but sitting on eggs that are not fertile, all she will do is cause the eggs to rot.
If you have access to fertile eggs at that moment, you can just swap the eggs she's been sitting on, for fertile eggs. Maybe you have neighbours who have hens + a rooster, and don't mind swapping a bunch of your eggs for a bunch of theirs?
If you don't have access to fertile eggs, the best thing to do is to "break" the broody hen.
How to break a broody hen
If a hen is broody but isn't doing it right (she's not sitting on all of the eggs all the time, she takes long breaks that allow the eggs to get cold) - or if you just don't have any eggs for her to sit on, the best thing to do for her is to "break the broodiness". Most of the times, it's easily achieved by not allowing her access to the nest anymore.
How to take care of my broody hen
People are often very worried about their broody hen, and aren’t sure how to take care of them - how can you make sure they are eating and drinking properly, and not starving themselves?
Most broodies will lose a bit of weight in the three weeks they sit on eggs, and in the first week of caring for the chicks. It all needs to stay warm and cosy, and getting off the eggs (or off the chicks) for too long can be fatal.
Make sure your broody hen has access to food and water at all times, and don't worry too much if you don't actually see her eat or drink. She'll often just choose the right time to leave the nest... which might be just when you're not looking.
One more thing...
When a broody hen is sitting on eggs, it's pretty important that:
All the eggs get put under her on the same day - or maybe one day's difference. If she's been sitting on a bunch of eggs for 5 days, don't go adding another bunch of eggs - technically, they would hatch 5 days later, but chances are your hen would have left the nest with her newborn chicks before that.
She doesn't get to sit on other / fresher eggs while she's broody. Other chickens may come in and lay their eggs on the same pile - do take them away though, for the same reason as above.
To make it all go smoothly, I advise to mark the eggs your broody hen is sitting on with a pencil - so there will be no confusion.
In the past, I've had a chicken sit on fake eggs (the plaster kind you buy in animal stores) just to "test" if she's broody; if she is, after a day or two she'll get the eggs I want her to hatch. I do kind of use my hens as a natural incubator.
Have you hatched eggs with a broody hen before?
If you have chickens, I’d love to know if you’ve tried hatching eggs before? Did you use broody hens or an incubator to hatch your chicks, and how did that work for you?
What are some of the struggles you’ve come across while trying to hatch eggs?
If you have any questions, chicken stories, tips or advice, let me know in the comments below!